Stroke remains a major health problem and is a leading cause of death and disability. Past research and neurotherapeutic clinical trials have targeted the molecular mechanisms of neuronal cell death during stroke, but this approach has uniformly failed to reduce stroke-induced damage or to improve functional recovery. Beyond the intrinsic molecular mechanisms inducing neuronal death during ischemia, survival and function of astrocytes is absolutely required for neuronal survival and for functional recovery after stroke. Many functions of astrocytes likely improve neuronal viability during stroke. For example, uptake of glutamate and release of neurotrophins enhances neuronal viability during ischemia. Under certain conditions, however, astrocyte function may compromise neuronal viability. For example, astrocytes may produce inflammatory cytokines or toxic mediators, or may release glutamate. The only clinical neurotherapeutic trial for stroke that specifically targeted astrocyte function focused on reducing release of S-100β from astrocytes, which becomes a neurotoxin when present at high levels. Recent work also suggests that astrocytes, beyond their influence on cell survival, also contribute to angiogenesis, neuronal plasticity, and functional recovery in the several days to weeks after stroke. If these delayed functions of astrocytes could be targeted for enhancing stroke recovery, it could contribute importantly to improving stroke recovery. This review focuses on both the positive and the negative influences of astrocytes during stroke, especially as they may be targeted for translation to human trials.
Copyright © 2010 The American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics, Inc. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.